NBA Chieftain Carpets INEC Over Abia Governorship Crisis | Independent Newspapers Limited
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NBA Chieftain Carpets INEC Over Abia Governorship Crisis

True Federalism Will Stem Recession, Says NBA Chair
Posted: Jul 16, 2016 at 6:06 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

…Says Judges Not To Blame For Conflicting Judgments

Nicholas Uwerunonye

Against renewed calls by some lawyers that Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, vacates the governorship sit for Uchechukwu Ogah, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate who got a court verdict sacking the state governor and putting him in his stead, Victor Abasiakan-Etim, Nigerian Bar Association Chairman, NBA, FCT chapter, puts the blame of the ongoing controversy at the door step of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for not showing restraint in awarding certificate of return to Ugah.

The NBA boss in FCT also reiterated that Justice Okon Abang, or any other judge involved in the Abia governorship tussle shouldn’t be blamed for the current logjam given clients and some lawyers penchant for forum shopping.

Rather, Abasiakan Etim stated that INEC should have shown maturity and restraint in the first place on the issuance of certificate of return. “I thought INEC, having been served with a motion for appeal and motion for stay of execution, should have observed restraints in issuing the certificate of return.

“I do not want to hold brief for anybody, though because I don’t know what sets of facts they relied on in taking those decisions. But I think the common man in Abia is worse off because of this matter because there is no peace in Abia as we are talking,” The NBA chairman said.

Further, the lawyer said, “the situation in Abia is an unnecessary and unneeded confusion and crisis. It also boils down to the workload of our judges. The Abia matter was a pre-election matter which ought to have been decided before election.

But with the volume of work, the judges cannot cope. So you find pre-election matters spanning even after the elections. Sometimes, like in this case, the election tribunal has even decided the matters while the pre-election matters are still pending. When this decision comes, there is nothing the judges can do. It is not their fault so they have to decide one way or another. But this particular one has thrown us into confusion.”

Justice Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja on June 27, sacked Governor Okezie Ikpeazu from office over alleged tax fraud. Justice Abang further directed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue a fresh Certificate of Return to Mr. Uchechukwu Ogah who came second in the governorship primary election the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, held on December 8, 2014.

The court held that Ikpeazu did not file his tax clearance in 2011, 2012 and 2013, saying all payments he made before the 2014 primaries of the PDP were made in one day (on a Saturday) and not as at when due. According to the court, the 2011 tax clearance certificate and income tax receipt Ikpeazu submitted to INEC before the primaries contained false information. This made Ikpeazu ineligible to stand for the 2015 governorship election.

Justice Abang then ordered that INEC, the third defendant, should immediately issue certificate of return to Dr. Uche Ogah as governor of Abia State in the election held in 2015 and restore to him all the entitlements as the elected governor of Abia.

But Ikpeazu had quickly appealed the judgment which he said was a grave miscarriage of justice against him.
In the notice of appeal he filed through his team of lawyers led by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, Ikpeazu, insisted that Justice Abang misdirected himself and erred in law when he held that he presented false information to INEC.

“The trial judge erred in law when he ordered as a consequential order that the appellant vacates his office as the Governor of Abia state immediately when there was no jurisdiction in the Federal High Court to remove, vacate the occupier of the office of the governor of a state or order the removal of such officer after the unsuccessful challenge of the result of the election at the Tribunal and swearing in of the appellant as the governor”, he argued.

Besides, Ikpeazu, in his five-grounds of appeal, maintained that the judge erred when he held that he did not pay his tax for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, at when due. He said the judge got it wrong considering that he was just a public officer whose tax deduction was under Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme where tax deductions were from the source of his monthly salary by the tax authorities who issued all the tax receipts and certificates.

Ikpeazu told the appellate court that Abia State Board of Internal Revenue Services that issued tax certificates to him had not declared the certificates forged. Aside the appeal which he lodged on June 28, Ikpeazu also approached Justice Abang with a motion to stay execution of the judgment

But two days after the appeal was filed, INEC, issued Certificate of Return to Ogar. Determined to retain his seat, Ikpeazu immediately ran to an Abia State High Court at Osisioma with an ex-parte motion, where he secured an order that stopped the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Theresa Uzoamaka Uzokwe from swearing Ogah in as governor.

Again, Ikpeazu approached the high court in Abuja, praying it to set-aside its order that led to the issuance of Certificate of Return to Ogah. Ikpeazu urged the court to take judicial notice that INEC issued Certificate of Return to Ogah on June 30, despite the fact that it was served with the notice of appeal and application for stay of execution at exactly 12:50am on June 28. He contended that INEC acted wrongly by going ahead to issue the Certificate to Ogah, two days after it was served with the appeal processes.

But INEC lawyer, Mr. Alhassan Umar told the court that the commission had already issued the Certificate to Ogah before it was served with Ikpeazu’s motion for stay. “We had no difficulty to issue the Certificate because election matters are suis-generis. “Where the law intends that an appeal should operate as a stay it is expressly provided so.

In our view, this matter is not regulated by section 143 of the Electoral Act”, INEC lawyer argued. Apart from declining to set-aside the enrolled order of the judgment, Justice Abang, in a ruling on July 8, held that Ikpeazu’s sack remained valid until a higher court decides otherwise. “The order of the court subsists until set aside by the Court of Appeal. Therefore, the INEC lawfully issued Certificate of Return to Dr. Sampson Ogah as it was in line with the judgment of this court”, the judge held. Justice Abang gave the ruling on a day another Federal High Court sitting in Owerri, Imo State, ruled that Ikpeazu was validly elected and remains the governor.

Interestingly, both courts relied on the same tax receipts presented before them by Governor Ikpeazu which was alleged to have been forged. Justice A. I. Alagoa gave Ikpeazu the nod to remain on seat after he dismissed another suit by a third claimant to the governorship seat, Mr. Friday Nwosu who is also a member of the PDP.

But exonerating the court judges from the legal maze in Abia, Abasiakan-Etim said that the problem lies with lawyers and their clients. “A judge does not just decide on case in a vacuum. He decides based on the facts presented to him. So it depends on how the lawyers and their clients churn out the facts of their case. No two cases are exactly the same no facts of two cases turn out to be the same. So it depends on how they are fashioned out before the judge.
“So most times it is not the judges that are at fault but the parties involved in the case. For me, if a party takes one case to one court, he ought not to take the same case to another. But you find that the plaintiff in this case is a defendant in before another judge on the same case. Depending on how the facts are portrayed before the court, the judge is bound to take decision one way or the other. Most times it is the litigants who bring these courts into conflict. I think there should be sanction once you are found to have been forum shopping or abusing the judicial process, so that we save ourselves from this embarrassment we found ourselves,” Abasiakan-Etim said.